Wednesday, March 08, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Louisville vs Pittsburgh

March 8, 2006

The first night of the 2006 Big East Conference Men's Basketball Tournament closes with Louisville taking on Pittsburgh. When these two teams first met in January, the Cardinals were ranked 10th in the country and Pitt was 12th. The Panthers edged Louisville 61-57 in Freedom Hall. Now they meet again, Pitt is still ranked among the top 15, but Louisville found it tough going in their initial campaign in the Big East, finishing 6-10 in the conference, but that can be put all behind them with a run this week in New York City.

Here are the pregame stories and previews from the internet:

Is It Tello Time? (Lousville Courier-Journal)
Louisville Hoping for a Run (Lexington Herald-Leader)
If Three Six Mafia Can Stun World, So Can Cardinals (Courier-Journal)
Louisville First Up for Pitt (Herald Standard)
Krauser's Shooting Slump a Concern (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Louisville Presents Different Look for Pitt (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Gray Gives Pitt Reason for Optimism (Tribune Democrat)
Pitt Notebook (Tribune-Review)

To read our preview and see our game prediction, click read more below and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section!


Pittsburgh comes into the Big East Tournament sliding a bit, losing three of their last four games, but eyebrows really were not raised until Friday's 65-61 home loss to Seton Hall. Louisville ends up in the Big East Tournament after losing two of their last three, beating Marquette on Senior Night last Wednesday to clinch a berth in the Garden Party, but they also feel pretty good about themselves after a pair of 4-pt road losses to West Virginia and Connecticut.

There is no doubt that this will be a close game. Pittsburgh is a team that does not get blown out, but they rarely blow anyone out themselves. Lately, however, they have not matched the intensity or emotional effort of their opponents, who seemed to be playing for more than Pitt. However, in their last two games, Carl Krauser has shot just 5-26 from the floor. In an earlier loss at Madison Square Garden to St. John's, Krauser shot just 5-17 (see a pattern here?) from the field. Pittsburgh will need to up their level of intensity on the defensive end and get a better offensive performance tonight if they are going to be able to survive the 1st round of the Big East Tournament.

When Pitt and Louisville met the first time, the Cardinals had a very limited Taquan Dean, who limped through 12 minutes of action. In that game, freshmen Terrence Williams had a career afternoon, scoring 25 pts, but the rest of the Cards managed to shoot just 10-34, including David Padgett and Juan Palacios' miserable 7-24. This time, Louisville will be without Padgett, whose season is finished because of knee surgery, but Dean is healthy and Palacios seems to be matching his enormous potential with some concrete results as he is coming off a 29-pt performance against Connecticut on Saturday.

Although just 6-10 in the conference, Louisville still believes that with two or three wins they will get consideration on selection Sunday, and they very well could. However, here is a team that has yet to win more than one game in a row in the Big East. Since February 4th's win over Notre Dame, the Cards have alternated wins and losses in each game, losing on the road to Cincinnati, Syracuse, West Virginia and Connecticut while winning at home against South Florida, DePaul and Marquette, many of the games were right down to the wire.

Without Padgett, the Cardinals will rotate Terrance Farley and Brian Johnson in the post against Pitt's Aaron Gray. In conference play, Gray is averaging a team-high 15.6 PPG and a league-leading 10.7 rebounds while shooting 57% from the floor, numbers good enough to be crowned the league's Most Improved Player and a memeber of the 1st team All-Big East. Gray has struggled from the foul line late in tight games and has found himself in foul trouble. The Louisville duo will probably not challenge Gray offensively, so he could avoid foul trouble, but they will concentrate on making him work for his points.

The other key match-up is Brandon Jenkins, Louisville's perimeter defensive-stopper, on Carl Krauser. Despite a shooting slump, Krauser is still Pitt's offensive catalyst and the player the opposition will look to take away from Pitt on the perimeter. Jenkins should be up to the task, forcing Pittsburgh to find other ways to beat them. Louisville will use a lot of ball pressure to try and disrupt Pitt into a tempo they do not like to play in and create turnovers where the Cards will look to run and finish on the break with a Williams' dunk, Dean three or drive to the hoop from Palacios. Pitt will try to use their size advantage and slow the game down and wear the Cards out with their superior depth.

Pitt has not fared well of late against teams that had more to play for. Whether it has been on the road or at home against Seton Hall, who was playing for their NCAA Tournament lives, the Panthers have seemed to be just a step behind their opposition. Sure, the stakes have also been high for Pitt, playing for a top NCAA seed and a Big East Tournament bye, but the other teams seems to be taking their effort up just one more notch. It is not like Pitt is not playing with effort of passion, it just has not met the level of their opponent.

Tonight, Louisville is playing for their season, their stakes are high. Earlier in the season, they tried to run their offense through David Padgett and it did not work against a team as physical as Pitt. Tonight, they will look to attack from the perimeter and pressure the ball with a press and trap against Pitt. I look for their intensity to be at a very high level, and, this will get them a tight win down the stretch as Pitt's streak of close losses continues.

Pitt is 4.5-pt favorites, but it will be a struggle tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Louisville 67 Pittsburgh 65


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